On the night of April 3 the Dallas Stars were thought by many to be done in the Western Conference playoff race. They had just traded away two top six forwards for prospects and draft picks and were sitting in 13th place, four points out of a playoff spot. Now, 11 days later, they are in eighth place in the West and riding a five-game winning streak after topping the San Jose Sharks, 2-1 at American Airlines Center Sunday night.
“At the trade deadline we had two choices,” said Stars goaltender Richard Bachman. “One was to just give in and go through the motions. Or we could prove people wrong.”
The Stars have been proving people wrong the past week-and-a-half, putting together an impressive run to climb up the standings and into the top eight in the West with seven games remaining in the season.
“I think we are starting to carve out an identity and figuring out why we are successful,” said Stars forward Eric Nystrom.” There’s a certain way we have to play, we are not a high-risk team. When we tried that earlier in the year we just got picked apart. Now we are playing a more straight line game. We’re getting pucks in, we’re getting bodies to the net and we’re paying the price. That’s what it takes to win. The best teams might have more skill, but they are still doing those little things that make the difference between winning and losing. We’re finding the way of what that takes.”
The Stars got another stellar performance from Bachman, who stopped 31 of 32 shots to win his third straight decision. Bachman had a couple of big saves in the second, stopping Joe Pavelski and then a Patrick Marleau rebound attempt with San Jose on the power play. In the third he stopped 12 of 13 shots as the Sharks stepped up the pressure trying to tie the game.
“I thought he made some solid saves, especially on the first power play they had in the second, he made a huge save,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “He cleaned up a lot of the stuff in front of him, I thought our D did a good job of keeping guys away from him and I thought our forwards did a good job of collapsing. But he was real solid for us.”
Bachman has stopped 79 of 82 shots over his last three appearances, all wins, as he plays for the injured Kari Lehtonen.
“You get your confidence up when you play more and more and you get a little better feel for the game and the stuff that happens out there,” Bachman said. “The guys are doing such a great job out there right now in front. You can see it over our last five games, they are doing the little things right, protecting the front of the net. If we don’t have anything they aren’t afraid to ice it, flip it out of the zone. We’re doing small things, little things.”
The Stars got off to a quick start again Saturday, scoring two goals in the first 7:00 of the game to take a 2-0 lead.
Nystrom scored off a two-on-one rush at the 1:57 mark, beating Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi with a shot from the left circle.
“The past couple games we’ve had some good starts and that’s key,” said Nystrom. “If a team is not ready you can jump on them and take advantage of that. We’ve done that the past couple games and that is huge.”
Alex Chiasson tipped in a Ray Whitney point shot with the Stars on their second power play of the game to make it a 2-0 lead at 7:00 of the first. It was the sixth goal in six games for Chiasson, who was called up just after the trade deadline and has been a key player in the Stars’ recent run.
“I try not to pay attention to the stats, I think I just concentrate on my game,” said Chiasson. “This is great for us. We’re right there right now, right in eighth place. The only thing that matters, like I said, are the guys that believe in here. That’s all that matters really.”
The Sharks finally got on the board in the third period when Brent Burns scored on the power play with 14:04 left in the game. But Bachman and the Stars shut the door the rest of the way to secure the win and move into a playoff spot with seven games remaining.
“I liked how we responded because as you get closer and closer to the end and you’re fighting for a spot it’s going to amp up,” said Gulutzan. “I thought today was an indication of that. I thought we handled it pretty well.”
*Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen missed his second straight game with a groin injury. Asked if Lehtonen could play Monday in Chicago, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said: “We hope so, but we’ll see what happens. He’s day-to-day.”
*The Stars have outscored their opponents 20-9 during their five-game winning streak.
*The Stars improved to 3-5-0 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
*Stars forward Alex Chiasson is the first player in the NHL to record six-plus goals in his first six NHL games since Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh) in the 2006-07 season.
*Chiasson’s six goals since the April 3 trade deadline ranks second in the NHL over that span (Ovechkin, 7 goals).
*Stars center Vernon Fiddler ran his points streak to six games (2 goals, 8 assists).
*Fiddler’s 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) is tops in the NHL since the April 3 trade deadline.
*Saturday’s attendance was 18,007.